Today’s topic for our three coaches is: how do you approach training the power clean and it’s variations for sports performance development?
The power clean is an excellent tool for developing athleticism. It teaches the body some crucial lessons like the efficient transfer of forces from the hips through the torso, ground reaction forces, and force absorption and eccentric loading. It is widely accepted that the power clean is the most “powerful” movement an athlete can perform in the weight room.
That being said, a few considerations should be made when programming for a clean. Can you get into the proper positions to perform a power clean? If not, is that a result of your structure or a reflection of your mobility? Some coaches have decided to opt out of certain phases of the clean for athletes that are unable to properly perform the “catch” or other phase of the lift. This can be an appropriate compromise to avoid the risk of injury while still reaping the benefits of the exercise.
Recent studies have shown that the rate of force production (power) is highest during the second pull phase of the clean. Therefore it may be an important consideration in terms of risk/reward of including the first pull phase. Care should always be taken when programming for yourself or anyone else in excluding any unnecessary risk. However, if the entirety of the lift is able to be performed with skill and precision it should be trained.
Each phase is associated with different adaptations that can be useful. For example, the “catch” phase is excellent in teaching proper force absorption, eccentric loading, and dynamic stabilization. These can be extremely valuable kinesthetic lessons. Not to mention the agility that is required to quickly and efficiently reposition the body under a moving bar.
One other thing that you should be aware of is selecting a proper load for cleaning. Recent studies have shown that rate of force production is highest around 70% of a one rep max, particularly during the second pull. Take this into consideration as it may not be necessary to lift as heavy as you think to make the desired adaptations.
The advantage of an evolved organism like ourselves, is that what is efficient is almost always synonymous with what is safe. Your performance and your technique are in equal correlation. Don’t sacrifice form for weight, your pride is not an asset.
The power clean is an amazing exercise; it can help to develop power in ways that few others can mimic. With an exercise that has the capability to develop explosive strength as well as this, can come some expected difficulties. I love the power clean and it’s variants due to the challenge and uniqueness of Olympic lifts; however, it is always one of the last exercises I teach my athletes if I even get to it at all.
The exercise requires such precise movements that are often difficult to create uniformity in repetition. Other limitations include requiring mobility in the wrists in order to develop the catch phase at the top of the lift; although mobility is one aspect of my programming that I find just as important and the development of strength or power.
It can be argued that the catch phase is not truly a necessary component of the lift, which is often the more challenging portion of the lift and can take a big portion of the learning curve away. I argue, however, that some athletes can benefit greatly from the catch phase; these include American Football linemen, basketball players, volleyball players, triple jumpers and any other sport and positional athletes that require a tremendous amount of force absorption and deceleration. However, for other athletes, the benefits of not using the catch include, the capability to use greater weights and thus potentially be able to develop power to a greater extent, as well as the various forms of power.
Removing the catch phase, can reduce the extremely long learning curve that can come with teaching and learning the power clean and thus allow an athlete to begin using the exercise to its potential more quickly. Many coaches only have access to their athletes for up to 3 months at a time and thus, using a month of their time together to teach a movement that will not initially produce any benefit, can be exhausting and wasteful.
Do the benefits outweigh the positives? Does your athlete need to develop force absorption? Does your toolbox of exercises allow you to develop power in a manner similar to this exercise? Do you have the ability and confidence to teach the movement? Many things must be taken into consideration when selecting exercises, especially Olympic lifts.
Explosive in nature, Olympic-style lifts involve a great deal of strength and speed. Power is, at the end, the byproduct of strength and speed. The lifts also require coordination, sense of body awareness, proprioception and flexibility. They are very “athletic-like” weight lifting exercises: pound per pound, the power clean represents the most powerful movement an athlete is capable of performing in the weight room.
Like any other Olympic-style exercise, the power clean involves a first, slow pull, a more explosive, fast second pull and a “pull under” (a quick, reactive “drop under” the bar that allows the athlete to safely catch the weight just below the collar bones).
Evidence in the most recent academic literature has shown that the greatest power output is achieved during the second pull, from a position of mechanical advantage known as “the power position”. I guess, this is really the reason why the question originally arose: should athletes complete the lift by catching the bar across their shoulders or rather perform explosive pulls/extension?
My answer is pretty simple. First and foremost, if an athlete is capable of catching the bar safely at end of the second pull, why shouldn’t he/she perform the full lift? Damping mechanics – in other words, deceleration, a concept that goes above and beyond just eccentric strength and involves neuromuscular control, coordination, and proprioception – is as important as acceleration in sport, if notmore.. Shouldn’t we train this quality too, I ask?
Reactivity, nevertheless , is also a major component of athleticism. If we are given the option of teaching an athlete how the be reactive by simply incorporating basic skills – like the catch – in the weight room, shouldn’t we embrace that?
My answer is again, yes. Clean pulls and extensions are great, excellent exercises to teach your athletes the proper mechanics of the triple extension and they represent excellent alternatives for subject with limited mobility and/or higher risk of injury. The majority of athletes age 10-11 and older should however dedicate time and effort to master the power clean from the bottom to the top in the attempt to become not just stronger but also more “athletic” athletes.
Theodore Sloan, Antonio Squillante, and Giulio Palau are three up and coming young coaches, part of a vanguard of new minds coming into the industry. They will approach a coaching tactic or strategy from a different perspective and share their insights here. If you have a training subject you would like to see addressed by these guys, send an email to
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